On Tuesday night, for the fourth time in the John Beilein era, there will be a banner raising ceremony at Crisler Center. It will be the first time that two banners will go up as Michigan celebrates its second consecutive Big Ten Tournament title, as well as its appearance in the Final Four.
In classic John Beilein fashion, Michigan’s 12th-year coach will have other thoughts on his mind than his team’s fantastic run to the National Championship game last year as the banners rise. “I never live in the past very much unless it really haunts me,” Beilein said. “I remember a guarantee game we lost to New Jersey Tech, (in 2014) I don’t remember all the success very well. I am focused on this year, but I am sure when that banner is going up that I will be very proud, but I will probably be thinking about “am I calling the right first play to start?” He finished.
Familiar faces are gone, more return and a few will make their official Wolverines debut, but Tuesday could represent the dawn of a new era of Michigan Basketball, and it all begins against a Norfolk State team picked to finish near the top of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC)
“Norfolk State gives us great challenges,” Beilein told the assembled media at Crisler on Monday. “They play a lot of different defenses, we only have video from them last year on them, so we are trying to guestimate what they are gonna be doing… We gotta find out somewhere where we are (as a team) and then build from it.”
Banners Go Up
Michigan will be raising its two banners simultaneously Tuesday night in a ceremony that will begin at approximately 8:15 PM. The 2018 Big Ten Tournament Championship banner and 2018 Final Four banner will be raised into a ceremonial location above the Wolverines bench Tuesday, then will be shifted to their permanent locations in the arena before Saturday’s home game against Holy Cross. Sophomores Isaiah Livers and Jordan Poole are excited to see their hard work from last year be celebrated one more time while keeping most of their focus on the new season.
“I was thinking about that last night, I was talking with Jordan, and I was like man we are about to have two banners go up, we always talked about it could have been three going up, but you’ve gotta learn from your mistakes and just keep pushing.” Livers said.
“Being able to come with a new team this year, and see the banners we raised from last year is awesome.” added Poole, who along with Livers and Eli Brooks, watched the 2017 Big Ten Tournament banner go up one year ago this coming Saturday.
Beilein coy on Captains, but three likely names emerge
Beilein was asked about potential team captains for the Wolverines this year but decided not to say since he had not informed the team yet. “It will not be a big surprise,” Beilein remarked. On the other hand, Jordan Poole was happy to reveal his ballot: “I voted for Charles (Matthews), X (Zavier Simpson) and Jon (Teske).”
If indeed true, it is no surprise that the team’s three most veteran players and three key contributors will be the leadership core for a Michigan team that features only one senior on its roster (Matthews) who arrived on campus the same time as Simpson and Teske.
Scouting the Spartans
Norfolk State finished last season 14-19, but went 11-5 in MEAC play, tying the Spartans for 2nd in the conference standings at the end of the year (three teams finished tied for first at 12-4, Hampton won the regular season championship.)
Like Michigan, the Spartans have played only one exhibition, providing a limited look at how they may line up Tuesday at Crisler. The performance that sticks out from Friday is freshman guard Joe Bryant Jr. The 6’1 Norfolk native dropped 18 points in just 12 minutes, shooting 5 for 8 from the floor and 70 percent from the charity stripe. Assuming he starts, Zavier Simpson will likely be his matchup defensively, which will be a difficult task for Bryant’s first college game.
Senior forward Jordan Butler also performed well vs. Virginia State, providing 15 points and 11 rebounds, going 5 for 7 from the floor. A 6’6 power forward, some defensive switching will likely have Jon Teske, and freshman Ignas Brazdeikis going against him.
“They’re a good physical team that wants to get up and down the floor. They crash the offensive glass a lot, and they are very aggressive.” commented Poole when asked about what he saw out of the Spartans on tape.
The key to Norfolk State’s win Friday was turnovers, NSU forced 21 on the game, outscoring VSU 31-13 on points off turnovers. Michigan’s young players will need to protect the ball to prevent an opportunistic Spartans team from scoring off turnovers.
On an emotionally charged evening, Michigan could have some early struggles but should pull away comfortably. The Wolverines will try to take all the momentum they can get from Tuesday’s game vs. the Spartans and Saturday’s game against Holy Cross before their massive non-conference tilt against No. 9 Villanova in Philadelphia on November 14th.
I’ll be providing in-game updates and postgame coverage from Crisler Center on Tuesday night. Be sure to follow me on Twitter, @ByJaySarkar for your fix as the Wolverines face Norfolk State. Banners go up at 8:15. Tipoff is at 8:30 and the game will be broadcast on Big Ten Network.